Definitions of Addiction

Social Psychological and Self-Regulation Views of Addiction

At the social psychology level, failures in self-regulation have been argued to be the root of major social pathologies (for further reading, see Baumeister et al., 1994). Important self-regulation elements are involved in different stages of addiction, including other pathological behaviors, such as compulsive gambling and binge eating. Failures in self-regulation can lead to addiction in the case of drug use or an addiction-like pattern with nondrug behaviors. Underregulation, reflected by strength deficits, a failure to establish standards, conflicting standards, attentional failures, and misregulation (misdirected attempts to self-regulate) can contribute to the development of addiction-like behavioral patterns (Figure 1.4, Box 1.2). The transition to addiction can be facilitated by lapse-activated causal patterns (patterns of behavior that contribute to the transition from an initial lapse in self-regulation to a large-scale breakdown), thus leading to spiraling distress. In some cases, the first self-regulation failure can lead to emotional distress, setting the stage for a cycle of repeated failures to self-regulate and where each violation brings additional negative affect, resulting in spiraling distress. For example, a failure of strength may lead to initial drug use or relapse, and other self-regulation failures can be recruited to provide entry into or prevent exit from the addiction cycle (Box 1.3).

At the neurobehavioral level, such dysregulation may be reflected by deficits in information-processing, attention, planning, reasoning, self-monitoring, inhibition, and self-regulation, many of which involve functioning of the frontal lobe. Executive function deficits, self-regulation problems, and frontal lobe dysfunction or pathology constitute risk factors for biobehavioral disorders, including drug abuse. Deficits in frontal cortex regulation in children or young adolescents predict later drug and alcohol consumption, especially in children raised in families with histories of drug and biobehavioral problems.

Back to top